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Visiting Solre-le-Château, France: an unusual, leaning church tower in gently undulating Little Switzerland of the North

Updated on March 26, 2012
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Solre-le-Château and the surrounding countryside
Solre-le-Château and the surrounding countryside | Source
Solre-le-Château - church and town hall
Solre-le-Château - church and town hall | Source
Map location of Nord department, France
Map location of Nord department, France | Source

Quaint, basically

As you approach Solre-le-Château, in northern France, it dominates the view. When you are in the town, it's the most conspicuous thing that you see. Once you have left the town, it is what is most likely to remain indelibly marked in one's memory.

The object in question is a church tower. It is striking in appearance. This is for more than one reason.

First of all, it has been the tallest building in the town for centuries. It remains so.

Then it is because it has a curious, bulbous shape, not unlike that of the better known Collegiate church in Dinant, in neighbouring Belgium.

Finally, it is because if you look closely at the church tower in Solre-le-Château, it will be apparent that it leans slightly. (A local historian has even claimed that the tower of this 16th century church was made to lean deliberately. But that is another story... .)

All these factors doubtless make the town and its church stand out in the mind of the visitor.

The town on the Solre River is situated in the Nord department of France, not far from the border with Belgium, in an area known as Avesnois. This area also carries the unofficial name of Little Switzerland of the North (French: Petite Suisse du Nord ), the word 'North', here, in the this informal title, referring to the Nord , i.e., North, department of France. The visitor may consider a number of features: the verdant pasture land, the gently undulating countryside as its topography merges into that of the nearby Ardennes, the unhurried pace of life and the existence of quaint structures such as Solre-le-Château's bulbous, leaning church tower. Thus he or she will readily be able to grasp why the allusion to Switzerland is suggested by various local features.

Be this as it may, the church at Solre-le-Château was built of bluestone. In 1611, a fire necessitated the replacement of the tower, which, when rebuilt, took on its characteristic leaning propensity. Accidentally; on purpose: who knows what really happened ... ?

Right, so now for the question which everyone has been wanting to ask: where is the château at Solre-le-Château? Well, this is easy: there isn't one. Not for the two centuries since the French Revolution, in fact, has there been a château at Solre-le-Château, because it was destroyed in the Revolutionary violence. (As was so much else, but, again, that is another story ... .)

Also worth seeing

In Solre-le-Château itself, there is a striking town hall (French: Mairie ) adjacent to the church with the leaning tower.

Sars-Poteries (distance: 5.4 kilometres) has a longstanding ceramics industry, which sometimes makes available pottery for purchase by tourists.

Avênes-sur-Helpe (distance: 15 kilometres) is an historic town with a large church tower, which dominates the horizon.

Beaumont , Belgium (distance: 14 kilometres), which suffered greatly in war, over the centuries, has the Medieval Salamandre tower.

...

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport Solre-le-Château (distance: 107 kilometres). Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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